by Ian Walker
To be considered one of the best episodes of Survivor ever, it can’t just be memorable, it has to be unforgettable. An episode where the viewer can recall the exact time and place where they watched it because it’s so burned into their brain due to the massive amounts of awesomeness they’ve just witnessed. All of these top ten episodes of Survivor left the people at home feeling some jaw-on-the-floor incredulity, whether positive or negative, leaving the audience reeling, knowing that they just witnessed an incredible hour of television.
The Villains tribal council here in episode six of Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains may be the greatest tribal council of all time. It certainly is the craziest and unlikeliest result of all time. Russell Hantz’s ultimate Survivor hail mary shouldn’t have worked. It’s not even clear he thought it would work, but it did. That one move changed the course of the entire game, more than any other one single move in any given season in the history of the show. However, it’s not just the tribal council that pushes this episode into the top ten; but rather, it’s just the icing on top of the incredibly delicious cake that is this episode. There’s so much other good stuff that makes this episode truly one of the best the show has ever produced.
One of the first scenes takes place during early morning at the Villains camp, where Russell and “Boston” Rob Mariano have a pre-dawn chat. By this point in the game, Russell has been fed up with Rob for awhile and has been chomping at the bit to take a swing at him. Russell sees Rob as the big player of the tribe that he needs to take down for him to become the Top Dog. Rob sees Russell as much more of just a tribe nuisance, albeit a sneaky nuisance that should be dealt with soon.
The whole exchange plays out like two rival cowboys meeting for one last time before their duel to the death at sundown. Rob and Russell stare each other down, each telling the other to “watch your back.” Both men are confident that they’re going to come out on top. “I don’t care how strong he is, I don’t care who he is, he’s threatening Russell Hantz when you do that you go,” Russell says in a confessional. While Rob says in one of his, “Russell’s gonna find out soon enough that he’s out of his league. I just did everything I could to make him more paranoid as I could, just so he runs around like a crazy man.” The showdown between these two Survivor titans is coming in this episode, and this scene does a great job of bracing the audience for that battle.
Meanwhile, the Heroes tribe is suffering through their own personal turmoil. Having lost four out of the first five immunity challenges, morale is at an all-time low- best exemplified by the tribe’s resident Mopey McMoperson, Colby Donaldson. His best friend, Tom Westman, was voted out last night, and now he’s convinced that he’s the next to go; a fate he’s seemingly willingly accepted.
The only thing stopping Colby’s torch from getting snuffed is James Clement, who injured his leg the previous episode and has been walking around with a leg brace ever since. James and Colby’s usefulness to the tribe comes to a head in the immunity challenge, where it’s revealed that both tribes will go to tribal council. While the challenge is an individual competition, it still becomes relevant to the Heroes tribe as an injured James performs better than Colby in the challenge. Neither James nor Colby wins the immunity necklace, but the question of the vote becomes very apparent for the Heroes tribe. Is an injured James worth having more than a healthy Colby?
There’s also another issue that’s putting James’ position in jeopardy heading into tribal council: his lack of banana etiquette. Long before his appearance on this season, it’s been established during James’ time on Survivor that the guy eats a lot. It should come as no surprise; he’s a big dude, and big dudes need a lot of calories to sustain themselves. Therefore, James eats a lot of bananas, much to the Heroes tribe’s chagrin, and they think that James should reign in his banana consumption, ergo, poor banana etiquette. His best buddy Amanda Kimmel tries to explain the problem to him, but James just isn’t having it, laughing off the whole banana etiquette idea as ridiculous.
Equally ridiculous is the fact that the tribe makes James run in a footrace against JT Thomas, just to prove his physical capability. While he doesn’t beat JT, he comes kind of close, which shows more desire to stay in the game than Colby, who’s spent the entire day silently sitting by himself in the water looking sad. Rupert Boneham best sums up the Heroes’ situation by saying “Who do we keep? James who is fighting to stay in the game, or Colby who is ready to walk out? I don’t want to see James go; James is 100% an ally on my side. Colby is not. James is a fighter. Colby is not. James is POWER. Colby is not.”
Over on the Villains tribe, the strategic action is ramping up. Rob won the immunity necklace, giving himself some security as he begins to mobilize his forces against Russell’s. Luckily, he has more numbers at his command, having six people in his alliance to Russell’s three. It’s widely suspected that Russell has a hidden immunity idol, so Rob gives him one last chance to fess up to having one. Although he does have one, Russell denies it, which prompts Rob to say the words that rankle Russell Hantz like no other, “It’s better to play with me than against me.”
Russell goes to his two girls, Parvati Shallow and Danielle DiLorenzo, and declares his intention of handing the idol over to Parvati, thinking it’s his best bet to foil Rob’s plan. He’s right, at least initially; Rob gathers his troops and instructs them to all vote Parvati while hoping to force the idol out of Russell’s hands. After mulling over, however, Rob is struck by a bit of voodoo inspiration and tells his people to split the vote. By putting three votes on Russell and three on Parvati, it’s a foolproof way for Rob’s group to come out on top. Unfortunately, Russell sees this plan too, so he tries one last play by pulling Rob’s main ally Tyson to the side and tells him that he’ll be voting for Parvati and that he should too.
With that final Russell seed in bloom, the Villains head to tribal council for one of the most epic blindsides ever.
Throughout the whole tribal council, the audience is left wondering whether Russell could pull off another miracle. After coming off an improbable run to the end the previous season, fans knew better than to count out Russell when there’s a big move to be made. But this situation seemed too impossible to overcome, even for Russell. So, when Russell stands up and hands the idol over to Jeff Probst, declaring its use for Parvati, it seems like Russell is making his last grand gesture in Survivor. Rob shakes his head, thinking that the guy just signed his own death warrant. The first two Russell votes come in, and everything so far is according to plan. Then, one, two, three, four Parvati votes, all nullified. Then comes the three Tyson votes, sending him out of the game and leaving all of the Villains, even Russell, as well as the entire viewing audience, shocked and confused at what took place.
This vote stands as one of the most difficult to comprehend moves in Survivor history, as it’s tough to determine who really should receive the credit. Did Russell really get into Tyson’s head and convince him to flip his vote, or did Tyson not believe Russell all along and thought he’d be safe flipping his vote to Parvati anyway? Either way, it’s another huge moment in the Russell Hantz legacy, adding more fuel to his fans’ clamor of declaring him one of the best to ever play.
The Heroes’ tribal council immediately afterward serves as a nice palette cleanser after the insanity of the last vote and is pretty straightforward. James chides Colby for not giving it his all in the game, giving him the now famous moniker of “Superman in a fat suit.” He also voices his dissent on banana etiquette, delivering the hilarious line of “In my world, if your ass is hungry, you go get a banana.” Alas, James’ pleading is not enough for him to stay, as he’s voted out by the Heroes, ending one of the craziest, unpredictable and simply enjoyable episodes in Survivor history.